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November 15, 2013

Anita

Cleveland, Ohio
Positive since 1995

One day I lost my balance and stumbled and fell. The next thing I knew, I was in a wheelchair unable to care for myself. I didn’t know what was wrong. My body started breaking down so I was admitted to the hospital for some tests.

 After about a week or so, a team of doctors came into my room and told me I was HIV positive, which is the worst thing I thought someone could say to me. I thought I was going to die right away. I wondered what I was going to do how and how I would to tell my kids and family.

I stayed in the hospital for about two and a half months and when I went home I was a nervous wreck, scared of everything. I didn’t want anyone drinking or eating after me. I started hiding my toothbrush, washcloths and anything that I thought would harm my six children.

A nurse came home with me to help take care of me. It was awful not being able to cook for my kids, wash myself or clean my own house. I felt dead. After weeks of feeling really bad about myself, I decided to get help. I called around trying to find a doctor but back then there weren’t many places that had HIV services and care.

Thankfully I was able to talk to someone at the university hospital. They told me that there were meds available and if I decided to take them, I would have to take them for the rest of my life. At some point I decided to take them and it was one of the best choices I had made in a long time. I decided not to tell the kids about my HIV. After I starting to take the meds things started to change. I started standing on my own. I went to therapy and started walking with a walker. Soon I was back walking on my own and I was getting stronger every day. I was cooking, cleaning and caring for my family again.

After a couple of years, I started to get a big head and stopped taking my meds. I started to get sick again but this time something different. I began to lose weight and felt weak and horrible. I went back to doctors and found out that I had cancer. I knew for sure I was going to die. The doctors told me I had to do chemotherapy and they gave me more pills to take, which was a good and bad thing because I now had a reason for taking meds. I felt relieved because I could tell people I’m taking meds because of the cancer and no one had to know about the HIV. Back then I had to take about 10-15 pills a day. I could tell my kids I was sick because I got cancer.

I went into remission but the cancer came back again and again and throughout the whole time I kept missing my HIV meds because I was trying to keep it a secret.

Then one day the cat was let out the bag. A mistake happened at the hospital and my daughter found out about my HIV status. I thought it was the end of the world but instead she embraced me. I decided not to tell my other kids—especially my baby—until they were 18 years old and had finished school. I didn’t need them worrying about me.

Four relapses with cancer and two hip replacements later, I am still taking my meds. My children have graduated high school/college. I have grandkids and people who love and try to understand me. I wish I’d told them a long time ago. I wouldn’t have had to fight this battle alone all this time.  It was silly of me...

What three adjectives best describe you?
Dependable, loyal and positive

What is your greatest achievement?
Being in remission of cancer five years and counting

What is your greatest regret?
Keep my HIV a secret so long

What keeps you up at night?
My mind—it never sleeps

If you could change one thing about living with HIV, what would it be?
To not be afraid

What is the best advice you ever received?
Don’t do it. “It” was everything—don’t smoke, don’t fool with boys, etc.

What person in the HIV/AIDS community do you most admire?
Myself

What drives you to do what you do?
My kids and grandchildren

What is your motto?
There isn’t such a thing as can’t. Yes you can.

If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab on the way out?
My family

If you could be any animal, what would you be? And why?
A bald eagle. I would fly around bravely holding my head up high.



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